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A primer on AWS tagging with best practices

Consistency and standardization are critical to a successful AWS tagging strategy. Consider these best practices to organize and optimize your organization's workloads.

Cloud deployments can quickly grow, even for small and medium-sized businesses. With multiple stakeholders involved, including developers, administrators and users, a business's cloud resources can expand exponentially. Users need a simplified way to optimize workloads while improving visibility of resources.

Organizations can manage AWS services by establishing a comprehensive strategy for tagging cloud resources. Learn best practices around resource tagging in AWS cloud environments, including the value of tagging, tagging strategies and pitfalls to avoid when implementing or redesigning an approach to tagging.

What are AWS tags?

Tags are metadata that provide information about services, virtual machines, network resources and more. Cloud administrators can use this descriptive metadata to understand resource use and ownership.

AWS tags consist of a key/value pair. The tag key may describe a logical business unit, while the value identifies a specific entity within the unit. Values are optional, but you may only associate one value per key.

Consider an organization with a production environment. You might configure the following tagging scheme:

  • Key: environment.
  • Value: production.
Tag for a new AWS VPC.

Perhaps an organization needs to associate a department with a specific resource for chargeback and reporting purposes. You might establish this tag structure:

  • Key: owner.
  • Value: sales-dept.

Basic tagging rules

Keys may be up to 128 characters, while values cannot exceed 256 characters. They may consist of numbers and letters -- using lower-case characters makes creating new tags simpler and ensures standardization. Resources can only use 50 user-generated tags.

They can also consist of various special characters -- hyphens and underscores are among the most useful. One recommended practice is to separate business units with colons and separate words by hyphens. An example key might look like this:


Ways to add tags

You can add tags to resources during the creation process or afterward during system maintenance. You can add tags using the AWS Management Console, the AWS Command Line Interface and APIs. The AWS Tag Editor enables you to search for resources and manage tags in bulk. That's especially useful when standardizing a tagging scheme in an AWS environment.

Example of AWS tags.
A new VM instance with name:Test-Server01 and environment:production tags.

AWS infrastructure also applies AWS-generated tags to your resources. These tags are for internal management, though you can reference them using reporting tools. Since they are inherent components of AWS, they don't count against the user tag limit.

Common tagging strategies

Tags play a pivotal role in categorizing and organizing cloud resources, providing greater visibility into resource usage. Tags should reflect how stakeholders, accounting personnel, cloud administrators and software architects use this information.

Tailor strategies to meet company needs. Standard approaches include the following:

  • Environment.
  • Service.
  • Compliance.
  • Account.

Other approaches include security, automation, technology and more. These categories allow you to define a comprehensive tagging strategy that provides observability into necessary areas.

What are the benefits of tagging AWS resources?

Measured service is one of the fundamental characteristics of cloud technology. Visibility into cloud resource deployment, management, use and cost supports this attribute. The AWS Management Console's search feature allows you to display resources containing a specific tag, giving you this visibility. Tagging AWS resources helps an organization with the following:

  • Cost tracking for analysis and chargebacks.
  • Access control for security and compliance.
  • Monitoring and reporting.
  • Automation for efficient deployment and scaling.
  • Resource organization for ease of administration and understanding.
  • Identity and access management attribute-based access controls to recognize tags.
  • Lifecycle management, especially for test or temporary resources.

AWS admin tools like AWS Cost Explorer and CloudForecast use tags to help with cost management. Budget alerts accept tags as criteria for notifying administrators of possible cost problems. Another helpful option is the AWS Compute Optimizer, which can show right-sizing recommendations by tag keys and tag key/value pairs. This feature is useful for displaying tagged cloud resources that could be rightsized.

What are some AWS tagging best practices?

To create an effective tagging strategy, cloud management staff must be in the habit of using tags when deploying new resources. This approach requires training to apply tags and recognize the importance of using approved and established tags. Everyone is responsible for maintaining proper tag use. Best practices for creating and applying tags include the following:

  • Implement standardized and consistent formatting.
  • Create a tagging hierarchy to enable future growth and flexibility.
  • Do not use personal or confidential data.
  • Add tags for cost management and technical organization.
  • Audit tags to ensure consistency and adherence to standards.
  • Tag owners to manage tag naming conventions.
  • Implement automated tagging practices when possible.
  • Manage the number of available tags.

Remember to establish similar tagging structures with any Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud resources your company may deploy if it relies on a multi-cloud environment.

Are there any common AWS tagging mistakes?

While tagging may seem simple, organizations can still make mistakes that can have costly impacts.

No centralized control. Some organizations ease into cloud services one department at a time. If there is not a central authoritative design group, deployments can be inconsistent and unorganized. Even simple concepts like standardized use of upper-case or lower-case tag names may contain discrepancies. Duplicate tags intended to identify specific resources could result in confusion or unclear reporting. Tools such as the AWS Tag Editor can review and update any problem tags.

View of the AWS Tag Editor.
The AWS Tag Editor allows you to modify existing tags to ensure consistency.

Underutilizing tags. Resource tags are a critical part of managing AWS infrastructure. Failure to use tags reduces the observability of cloud resources which opens your organization to security problems, monitoring issues and increased spending. Also, organizations can risk losing visibility and control over their AWS resources.

Damon Garn owns Cogspinner Coaction and provides freelance IT writing and editing services. He has written multiple CompTIA study guides, including the Linux+, Cloud Essentials+ and Server+ guides, and contributes extensively to TechTarget Editorial and CompTIA Blogs.

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